Striving for a brighter future in the Algarve

By CAROLINE CUNHA

caroline@portugalresident.com

ANTÓNIO PINA is the Civil Governor of the Faro District, essentially, the government’s representative in the Algarve region.

Explaining the role behind the grand title, he said: “I am a spokesperson for the Algarve and the eyes and ears of the government in the region. A type of ambassador, if you like. I communicate the problems, the complaints, the needs and interests of the Algarve to Lisbon. I identify areas for action and investment and endeavour to find solutions together with the government.

There are 18 Civil Governors in Portugal, one for each district. Civil Governors are not elected by the general public but are chosen by government ministers and, although they represent all the government ministers in their region, the main link is with the Minister for Internal Administration.

“As Civil Governor, I am responsible for public security and civil protection, particularly policing and the bombeiros. I also act as the link between the general public and the government,” he said.

“I receive lots of letters every week informing me of local problems, letters for example about robberies and a lack of security, complaints about noise and about decisions made by câmaras over land use, and so on. I receive quite a lot of letters from the foreign community in Portugal. I investigate these issues and deal with the authorities concerned. As an example, if I hear that a factory is about to be shut down and 50 workers are about to lose their jobs, I will communicate the situation and try to find a solution together with the relevant member of the government. In addition, Portuguese citizens in the Algarve apply for their passports at the Civil Government office in Faro and we have recently installed the necessary equipment to process the new biometric passports.”

António Pina is 61 and took office in April 2005. He is married with two children, has two grandchildren and lives in Olhão, the city where he was born.

A graduate of Germanic Studies, he began his career as a school teacher. He has been vice president of Olhão Câmara and has also held the position of Regional Director of Education. He is the founder of the Olhão Rotary Club.

A self confessed football fan, the Civil Governor is a keen supporter of his local team, Olhanense, Benfica and also admits to following Chelsea.

The Resident: What do you think about there being an increasing number of foreigners coming to live in the Algarve?

António Pina: They are welcome if they are coming for a good reason!

We currently have 89,000 legal foreign residents in the Algarve. They often bring new ideas and different experiences to the Algarve and that is good for the economy. The recent Better Living in Portugal Exhibition (BLiP) is a good example of how the international community can bring benefits to the Algarve’s economy.

I have been an immigrant myself. Years ago I spent five months living and working in Jersey, UK, at a small hotel. I carried the bags and kept the car park litter free. I did everything. I was the barman and I remember having to learn how to mix drinks such as Bloody Marys, which were very popular! I also served tea and scones! My wife worked in the laundry.

T.R: Drug smuggling seems to be a big problem in the Algarve, every day we receive news of new cases: what is being done to keep this under control?

A.P: Yes, the Algarve is one of the entry points into Europe. We are constantly investing in more means to fight the problem. We recently invested in a special advanced radar system, which will be unveiled very shortly. This equipment will allow the authorities to quickly identify suspicious vessels and act quickly. This is a world problem, but with regard to the Algarve, we are doing as much as we can.

T.R: Portugal has one of the highest death rates on the roads in Europe and many accidents take place in the Algarve, which all too often prove fatal. What is behind this phenomenon and what is being done to solve this problem?

A.P: Unfortunately, this has been a cultural problem and, in the past, drivers found it much easier to get away with breaking the regulations. These days, no-one is above the law. The EN125 once had the highest death rate of all roads in Europe. I am pleased to say that the prevalence of accidents is coming down. We are being much tougher with fines, handing down heavier punishments, deploying more police on the roads and carrying out more random inspections to check licences, and so on.

It is my job to decide on the punishment motorists should receive when they offend; if they should have their licence revoked and for how long, and so on. They are fined on the spot and then the case files are processed and sent to my office. I receive around 100 per week!

Typical cases are drivers found driving over the legal alcohol limit, speeding, talking on mobile phone while driving and so on. I can tell you that my son was fined four months ago for a driving offence and his case file appeared on my desk. He was treated the same as everyone else. Everyone has to pay. This is the law! I need to sleep well at night and be able to look in the mirror in the morning.

T.R: Despite it having been a very hot summer, there were very few fires this year and little damage done in the Algarve. What was the reason for this?

A.P: Only 200 hectares of land were affected by fires this summer. In 2003, 20,000 hectares were burned, in 2004, 40,000 hectares and in 2005, 1,800 were burned. So yes, you can see that the situation has drastically improved over the past two years. The reasons for there being less fires are the following. Since 2005, we have had three fire fighting helicopters, as opposed to just one previously. These are stationed in Monchique, Loulé and Cachopo (near Tavira). In the past, there was no-one to co-ordinate the efforts of the 17 bombeiro corps. Now, we have a district operational commander (Vaz Pinto).

As Civil Governor I am politically responsible for the co-ordination of civil protection in the Algarve, while Vaz Pinto is responsible in operational terms. The GNR now co-ordinates the patrols to ensure that the entities involved are not doubling up or missing any areas.

This year, the Algarve was given reinforcements in the shape of 69 military personnel especially trained to fight fires – known as Grupo de Intervenção de Protecção e Socorro (GIPS). Better strategies have been developed to fight fires. For example, when a fire first breaks out, the helicopter is sent in to fight the fire for the first 15 to 20 minutes. If it is not successful, three bombeiros corps are sent to the scene. This is known as the triangle system. Rather than one team of bombeiros fighting a fire alone, resources are immediately pooled.

Now we are prepared to fight fires in all areas and to cope when there are as many as three or four fires to fight at any one time.

Morale is higher among the bombeiros. Their self esteem has improved. In a way, they are like a football team; for a while they kept losing so their spirits were down, now, after achieving some success they feel happier and more motivated!

T.R: It is widely rumoured that tolls will be introduced on the A22 in the Algarve in 2008, can you comment on this?

A.P: I don’t know where the date comes from because this has nothing to do with the government’s policy on the Concessões Sem Custo para o Utilizador (SCUT), concessions without cost to the user, which relates to the Via do Infante (A22). According to the government’s policy with regard to SCUT, tollbooths will only be introduced in areas which meet two very clear criteria namely: the area must be economically strong in terms of wealth per capita and there must be a viable and safe alternative to the motorway.

In the case of the Algarve, if the decision was only based upon the first of the two guidelines, then tolls would have been introduced on the A22 by now because the Algarve is not a poor region. However, the opinion is that the EN125 cannot be considered as an alternative to the A22. For this reason, tolls are not being introduced on the A22 and will not be implemented until such time as both these criteria are met. I cannot guarantee that tolls will never be introduced on the A22, the door is not closed, but while there is no viable alternative road to the A22 it will not happen. As you can imagine, it is therefore impossible to give you an accurate year.

T.R: The Algarve Tourism Board, various councils, as well as resort and business owners, regularly call upon the government to provide police reinforcements for the Algarve all year round and not just during the summer. The Algarve is promoted as a year round destination and the concern is that its image as a safe destination could be damaged if crime levels are not kept under control.

A.P: The current situation is the following: there is less crime in the Algarve than there is in the rest of the country. Crime levels in the Algarve are decreasing every month. Over the course of 2006 and 2007 nine new police stations are being built in the Algarve. First, the facilities have to be put in place and then we can have more men.

I agree that it would be beneficial to have more police in the Algarve all year round, but we also need to take care, because if there is a visible police presence everywhere, it can promote the image that the Algarve is an insecure destination.

A re-organisation of the security forces is currently underway, particularly in the GNR and by the end of this year; the details will be made public.

I believe that video surveillance cameras will be of great benefit if introduced in key areas such as the Avenida in Quarteira, in Portimão’s Praia da Rocha and in key tourist areas in Albufeira. We don’t want to turn the Algarve into big brother and have cameras everywhere, but if we use new technology in selected locations this would be effective. In fact, I am aware that Portimão Câmara has already submitted a proposal to the government.

To summarise, what is needed is a combination of better organisation, some reinforcements and the implementation of a few cameras. 

T.R: What is being done to solve the current licensing problems related to renting private property to holidaymakers? I understand you were approached by industry figures in the Algarve to help solve this problem and propose solutions to your colleagues in the government.

A.P: There is a problem and I agree the law has to be changed and yes, I attended a conference earlier this year concerning this issue which was held in Vilamoura and a commission was formed to tackle this problem. However, I am still waiting to receive a proposal from the commission to discuss with the government. Only when I receive a solution on paper can I discuss this issue. I am still waiting! The Secretary of State for Tourism is in Faro shortly, but I don’t have a document to discuss with him …. 

T.R: What is your main aim as Civil Governor of the Faro District?

A.P: To be useful every day! When I am leaving the office each day to return home, I always ask myself the same question. Was I useful to the Algarve today? How have I helped the Algarve today?

T.R: Do you have a message for The Resident’s readers?

A.P: Thank you for coming to the Algarve. Be happy!